Updated: Nov 16, 2019
Kids today have no idea what the world was like when us baby boomers grew up. As we used to say, “You had to be there.” They couldn’t imagine a world without the internet, cell phones, video games, microwave ovens and the Kardashians. So let me remind you about some of the childhood memories we all share and tell you about some of my personal stories that will make you say, “Oh, so that’s why he’s so screwed up.”
When I was a kid we didn’t have a lot of scheduled activities. There were no playdates, no Xboxes and the only classes I took outside of school were to help me do better in school. Instead, I was told to go out and play or go to my room and watch TV. Of course, I never felt deprived by this. I loved watching TV! Even though there were only 3 national networks and 4 local stations, there was always something on I wanted to see. Never anything educational. Mine was the last generation to grow up before Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street. So I watched cheaply animated cartoons (like Johnny Quest and Quick Draw McGraw), badly produced puppet shows (like The Shari Lewis Show and Winchell-Mahoney Time) and endearingly awkward children’s shows (like Romper Room and Bozo The Clown). I was as happy in front of my TV as Lindsay Lohan in front of an open bar.
When we played outside, there was never any parental supervision. I was warned not to take candy from or get into cars with strangers, but that was pretty much the extent of my parents caution. They’d let me ride my Schwinn Stingray bicycle with the banana seat all over the neighborhood with my friends or by myself. Without a helmet. The most dangerous thing that ever happened on it was when I’d get my bell bottoms caught in the bike chain. My friends and I were pretty much left alone to get chased off lawns, steal candy from stores and beat the crap out of each other. After a couple of generations of overprotective parenting, this kind of child rearing has recently been making a controversial comeback. They call them, “free-range kids”. Which I think is great. Except it makes those children sound like they might be delicious.
We not only didn’t have to wear seat belts in cars but my father used to pile me and my friends into the back of his station wagon and then drive down the street like a drunken stunt man. He’d recklessly swerve from lane to lane, tossing all of us from side to side while we rolled over each other and squealed with delight. It was like a 1960’s version of a bouncey-house, but with a death wish.
When I was a kid the bathroom stalls in my elementary school had no doors. They only had divider walls between the toilets. These provided privacy from the stalls next to you, but left you completely exposed in front. If anyone saw you in there, it wasn’t long before he had recruited a gang of ne’er do well children who would gather to witness your private defecation and turn it into a public humiliation. You know how cruel kids can be. At the very least, they would point and laugh at you. At the very most, they would throw things at you or just pummel you. I don’t know what it was like in the Girls Room, but the Boys Room was a killing field for the constipated.
You’d have to be on the verge of making in your pants before you’d give up the doody ghost and go in one of those stalls. So by the time the victimization began, you had erupted like Mount Vesuvius and there was no escape. You were, what could be called, a shitting duck. You can see how this experience would traumatize any child for life. To this day, I cannot crap in a public toilet without having flashbacks that would rival a war veteran with PTSD.
One of the most embarrassing things that could happen to any kid was when someone saw your underpants. (Remember, “I see London, I see France…”?) And it happened to me a lot. Mostly because I was growing so fast that my wardrobe couldn’t keep up. My pants were always splitting in the crotch, giving everyone a sneak peak at my tidy-whiteys. It was even worse if the elastic band happened to be protruding over the back of your pants (which was an open invitation to a “wedgie”) or if you were wearing loose fitting trousers (which invited the ritualistic “pantsing”). It wasn’t like today when boys purposely wear their pants so loose and low that you can see almost all of their underwear. Which is perhaps the lamest form of fashion rebellion since women briefly thought it was cool not to shave their legs or armpits. Certain trends never come back in style for a reason.
When I was a kid my parents used to send me to a sleep-away camp for two months in the summer. Essentially, they were parents for only 10 months out of the year. While I know that a few 6 – 8 week camps still exist, I don’t know anyone who sends their kids away for more than 2 – 4 weeks anymore. Now it seems that the parents suffer more separation anxiety than the children do. (At least, here in LA.) But not my parents. They couldn’t wait to ship me off. That was their time to travel the world and party like it was 1949.
For me, summer camp was a shock to the system. I was raised in the city, so being sent to the country was like an earthling being sent to Mars. My body had to adjust to the change in atmosphere and to the gravity of the situation. I had hay fever and a plethora of allergies that weren’t discovered until I was subjected to the great outdoors there. So I felt sick most of the time and didn’t know why. I never wanted to go to camp in the first place and was sent over my very loud objections. When they sent me away on that bus, I cried like a Mexican child being torn from his mother at the border.
That’s me (top row, second from the left), the original
“Not A Happy Camper”.
When I was a kid my diet primarily consisted of frozen Swanson TV Dinners, cans of Chef Boyardee pastas and Campbell soups. All of my sandwiches were made on Wonder white bread and my desserts were usually either Jell-O gelatin or pudding. Clearly, my mother wasn’t much of a cook. (My father used to say that my mother could burn water.) Most of the comfort foods of my youth are still around and have been improved upon. But we never dreamed that cupcakes could be wedding cakes and donuts could be covered with things like cereals, candies and cookie crumbs. And there are so many new tasty treats to choose from these days. When I was a kid there was no Pad Thai, honey mustard or red velvet cake. There were no sushi rolls, Double Stuff Oreos or deep fried everything-you-can-think-of. I think I have a solution for the obesity problem in our country -- stop making everything so damn delicious!
Was it all really so different back then, or is that just how we remember things? Is the world a scarier place? Are kids in more danger? Is bullying a bigger problem? Are parents more overprotective? Is it getting harder to keep up with technology and trends? Are children growing up faster? The answers to all these questions is probably “Yes.” But the truth is, the answer has probably been “Yes” for every American generation for at least a hundred years.
As we get older, our memories can fade and play tricks on us. I worry that I'll lose even more memories than I already have and I want to hold onto them for as long as I can.That's why I think it's important to reminisce and remind ourselves about the way things were. (Plus, it's fun.) The past helps me understand and appreciate the present. Besides, if you don't remember where you came from, you'll never know where you're going.